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Dorset Council proposes moving to new system for preparing its Local Plan

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In a recently published Local Development Scheme Update report to be considered by Cabinet on 12 March, Dorset Council’s Planning team is recommending a revised approach to the drafting of Dorset’s Local Plan in anticipation of a new plan-making system to be introduced by central government at the end of 2024.

Work commenced on the Dorset Council Local Plan when Dorset Council was formed in 2019. A consultation on a draft of the plan was undertaken in January 2021, and the council will take due regard of all the previous feedback from residents and other stakeholders as this information will continue to be used in the future to shape the new-style plan.

To continue under the current “old” system, the Council would need to publish its draft new Local Plan in late 2024 and submit a final draft version to central government by June 2025. Given the complexity of this work and geographical extent of a council-wide local plan, it would be a significant challenge to have all evidence and a draft plan in place by then, and would also lock the council into a plan process that is due to be replaced imminently. There are also benefits from moving to the new system, which should result in a more robust and up-to-date plan. 

Dorset Council is therefore looking to follow the new plan-making system, set to be introduced in November 2024. This will include a streamlined 30-month production timetable and the introduction of new Gateway Assessments into the process.

The proposed changes will remove the need for certain policies through the introduction of a national set of development management policies. The statutory Duty to Cooperate (which expects authorities to consider meeting unmet needs from neighbouring areas) has also been removed in preference to an ‘alignment policy’ which requires councils to engage with key stakeholders in the production of their local plans.

The Levelling Up and Regeneration Act has put measures in place to aid in addressing nutrient neutrality by requiring the upgrade of wastewater treatment works within a nutrient sensitive catchment.

Changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) have clarified the role of the local housing need calculation, changes to the application of the five-year land supply requirement, and reinforced the role of the green belt. There is a strong emphasis within the revised NPPF on the preparation of up-to-date local plans.

Under the new system, initial scoping and early engagement would take place in September 2024, before the bulk of the new Local Plan work began in November. There would be further engagement exercises in both 2025 and 2026, before submission for examination in November 2026. Subject to the result of this examination, adoption of the new Local Plan would be in May 2027.

Cllr David Walsh, Dorset Council’s Portfolio Holder for Planning, said:

“The Local Plan is one of the most important pieces of work that Dorset Council is carrying out. I cannot overstate how vital it is to get this plan right, and this is reflected in the passion, enthusiasm, and commitment of the communities, officers, and councillors involved in the process.

“But drafting such a plan is challenging, with the engagement work we’ve already carried out highlighting many key issues that must be addressed before we can produce a new draft for further public consultation.

“While it’s unlikely we’ll be able to hit the deadline under the current “old” system, we strongly believe that the forthcoming new system will introduce necessary regulations, policy and guidance that will ensure the next iteration of the plan will be more robust, balanced, and fit for the future.”

Categories: Planning



Comment by posted

I can understand the argument, outlined above, for delaying until national planning policy changes are brought in, though there is also a risk. The Labour Party is signalling that, should polls be correct and it wins the next general election, it too will want to reform the planning system to address the housing shortage and increase new housing development. Dorset Council could find itself facing the same dilemma, whether to produce a Local Plan quickly or delay (once again). 

Comment by posted

I note that "Work commenced on the Dorset Council Local Plan when Dorset Council was formed in 2019. A consultation on a draft of the plan was undertaken in January 2021". Since then almost no progress seems to have been made. This is an unconscionably long time, given the way that the system can be abused by developers while no Local Plan is in place.